The Emperor’s Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden – Advance Review [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the sensational Grey Knights novel The Emperor’s Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden.
“A wise man once said that Aaron Dembski-Bowden is heretically good. That description is no longer adequate. Aaron Dembski-Bowden is heretically great!” – The Founding Fields
Now the Grey Knights are something that I love reading about, Ben Counter’s Grey Knights trilogy is still a very good read despite its current out-of-date lore for the 666th chapter and ADB’s take on the Grey Knights is even better, but the events of this novel and the subjects touched upon take this far beyond being just a Grey Knights novel.
The Grey Knights are the secret guardians of mankind, battling the Eternal Enemy from the shadows. Men know them and their foes as myths, and those unfortunates that learn otherwise are quickly consigned to oblivion. For the Eternal War is one that must be fought in secret, hidden from the eyes of man and their souls, lest they be caught in the crossfire and damned forever. But now the Chapter goes to war, the killing fields of Armageddon await where the Wolves of Fenris hold back the Sanguinary Unholiness and its bastard son, and in this war, everything will change.
The story of The Emperor’s Gift is marvelous, from start to finish. The story is filled with revelations about its characters, potent scenes that really evoke emotions within the reader and an inside look at the Inquisition and the Grey Knights, and how they interact with the other warriors and organizations in the galaxy. The story even contains a link to another series in Black Library, one that is completely unrelated to this novel and that you would not have expected in a life-time, the link was so shocking it left me slack-jawed for a few minutes. And of course the story only gets more and more enrapturing with each chapter as it explores the prelude to Armageddon, and the blood-stained aftermath in detail that we have never seen, or read, before.
The protagonist of the novel is Brother Hyperion of Squad Castian. Hyperion’s inquisitiveness towards mortals is a fascinating subject, mortals are hard to understand for regular marines who remember being one but for a Grey Knight who cannot remember their past, it is even harder to understand a mortal man or woman, and Hyperion’s opinions and insights on them are a window into what it is like to be a Grey Knight and work alongside men and women from across the galaxy. The novel features a wide array of characters besides Hyperion such as Annika Jarlsdottyr, a Fenris born Inquisitor who is much more human than most Inquisitors you see, and her crew which consists of some unlikely souls called into service; Brothers Malchadiel and Sothis, the blood-brothers of Castian who both play very important roles in the novel; and from the Wolves of Fenris we have Logan Grimnar, the High King 0f Fenris, and perhaps one of the noblest souls in the Imperium.
One thing that I particularly liked character-wise were the Wolves of Fenris. Bill King gave us the drunken warriors with strong humour, while Dan Abnett gave us The Rout. But in The Emperor’s Gift it felt like a nice symbiosis between the two had been reached, the Wolves were humourous and everything we expect of their chapter, but when they were serious they were scary in their ferocity and their pride. One character in particular exemplified this mix, though I won’t say who, and was quite surprising in his attitude towards Hyperion and the others present at their meeting.
The battle scenes of the novel are darkly beautiful in their gore-stained glory. The Grey Knights battle using their minds just as much as their weapons and seeing them fight the Neverborn is almost artistic. Even the conventional styles of battle are brought to Grey Knights standards as they fight in a void, on the blood-soaked fields of Armageddon or in the tight confines of a starship, you can really feel that its a Grey Knight fighting and not just any Astartes. And of course there’s plenty of Khorne’s chosen carving their way through the battlefield, and one very special warrior of the Rage Lord makes his first post-heresy appearance, any 40k fan should know who i’m talking about. The other characters of the novel, Inquisition and Space Wolves, get their own battles to show off their strength, so there’s plenty of war from every side.
I felt the pacing of the novel changed mid-way once Part II began. At first the pacing felt slightly slower, as Hyperion explained more and more of the chapter, his squad and their allies in Inquisitor Jarlsdottyr’s crew and the prelude to Armageddon was featured. But midway, when war begins to call, the pacing erupts into a new speed. The book drags you along for the ride as it explores the First War for Armageddon and its aftermath through Brother Hyperion’s point of view. The first person style that the novel is written in adds quite nicely, it makes Hyperion the central character and gets people more invested in him, wanting him to survive and wanting to know more about him. And of course it allows for more in-depth views into Hyperion’s mind and opinions, and his interactions with mortals many of which are actually quiet funny.
The novel features a hell of a lot of good quotes but I personally liked this one the best, especially for the context of it.
“Howl for me. When. They. Come…”
The ending of the novel is solemn, but also empowering. It features something that has been mentioned in 40k here and there, but never in detail and has never appeared before. But it is described and featured very well, and is brilliantly suited to feature in this novel and close the story. Sadly the authors notes indicate there will not be a second Grey Knights novel, but I that’s ok because this novel is definitely enough to sate any fan of the Knights of Titan.
For its illuminating story, a wide cast of universally interesting characters, visceral battle scenes, and a look into one of the most famous battles in 40k I give The Emperor’s Gift a score of 10/10. Now something I feel I must say. I am aware that I frequently score ADB’s books very high, I have never awarded one of his books a score lower than 8.5 and a few of them have reached 10. I am aware that some may think I am, to use a term I hate, a fanboy of ADB. I am definitely a fan, he is my favourite author I do not deny that. And part of me wanted to score this review lower because I feel some wouldn’t take it seriously if I kept giving his books such high scores. But I cannot lower my honest opinion of a book just to try and please some people, and if he did write a bad book I would say so truthfully in my review. I do believe The Emperor’s Gift deserves its score, and if some consider me a fanboy, well then so be it.
Should you buy this book? Yes. This novel will please any fan of the Space Marines, and fans of the 666th chapter will be salivating to get their hands on it. I think that The Emperor’s Gift is one of those novels that everyone should read, from those who love the Grey Knights, those who want to see some of the First War for Armageddon, or those who just want to read a really great novel.
That’s it for this review. Next will be either Bloodsworn or The Primarchs, which one I haven’t decided yet. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!